April 12, 2015

Manu Decides Menu

G Mamatha

STOP! What are you eating? Let me see the sastras and find out if it is allowed. Stop! What are you wearing? Let me see the puranas and find out if it confirms to their specifications. Stop! What are you seeing? Let me find out if you are allowed to watch it. Stop! What are you hearing? Let me find out... This is what is happening in our country – an independent, democratic and secular republic. Our country, the biggest democracy in the world, is facing a severe attack that is threatening our inherent values and legacy – tolerance and syncreticism. Our Constitution, (Article 19) empowers us with the right to freedom of speech, expression, assemble peaceably, form associations, unions and move freely throughout the country. It is these and such rights that had earned us the sobriquet 'world's biggest democracy'. And the chairman of the drafting committee of this Constitution was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose 125th birth anniversary is being observed this year. Cutting across political lines, all and sundry will rush to garland the statues of Dr Ambedkar that have by now been erected in almost all the cities and villages of our country. It is their way of 'showing-off' their love towards the revered leader. Buoyed by the recent electoral victory, the BJP leaders are living in a false utopia that through 'media management' they can 'cheat' people. Unfortunately, they forget that nobody can fool all the people, all the time. Recently, the BJP had intensified its efforts to woo dalits into its fold – alas without enrolling dalits into the party, they well know that they cannot become the biggest political party in the world! By hook or crook they want the dalits in their influence. To achieve this, they are appropriating dalit icons, talking sweet to the dalits, stating that Muslims and Christians are responsible for their fate and that it is due to their 'punya' in previous life that they are born dalits in this life. What an about-turn they have made! But can a leopard hide its spots? The recent indication that it cannot, is from the debate raging on the food preferences among our country people. Let us take the example of the 'beef ban' imposed by the BJP state governments. Manu is being brought onto the menu, in an attempt to impose upper-caste culture onto the lower castes and minorities. State power is being used to impose cultural hegemony on the marginalised sections of the society. It is an attack on the food culture, and food choice of all those who choose to eat beef – an attack on ‘choice’, which is one of the foundations of modern democracy. Ambedkar sought to impart a multicultural dimension to food practices in India. He wrote at length on the evolution of people’s food culture. The RSS and the BJP want to package and present him as someone who not only endorsed the Hindutva project but also opposed beef eating, as cow was sacred to Hinduism. Twisting Ambedkar's words to suit their needs is nothing 'immoral' for them, as long as it serves the purpose of converting our country into a 'Hindu rashtra'. But unfortunately for them, Ambedkar was clear on such dangers and had clearly stated: “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country...(It) is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.” It is with this clear understanding that Ambedkar, had repeatedly warned about the dangers of Hindu Raj and appealed to fight the twin enemies of 'brahmanism and capitalism'. Ambedkar further linked casteism and religious fundamentalism: “Casteism and religious fanaticism, as I see it, has had a very peculiar effect on the minds and morality of the people of this country”. What this 'peculiar effect' they have, is well-known to all of us, who are bearing the fanatical propaganda of Hindutva and other communal forces around us. ‘Caste determines spending on food, choice of work: NSSO’, cried a headline in The Hindu recently. It says that data show that food takes up a larger share of the total expenditure of ST and SC households. Also that the food items that the different social groups spend on, changes with caste. Higher castes spend significantly more on milk and milk products, cereals etc. So it comes out clearly that the consumption of beef is one important source of protein to the poorer sections in our society and the BJP wants to deny them this 'luxury'. Imposing a ban on beef is one 'peculiar effect' of their religious fanaticism and casteism. The other 'peculiar effects' are imposing dress codes, moral policing, religious censorship and etc. The results are: vehement opposition to the film PK, to the newly released film of Kamal Hassan, the threats they have issued to the Kolkata biennale art exhibition, etc. And they have a history of ransacking the paintings of MF Hussein, the exhibitions by students in Gujarat, amongst many more such incidents. It is because of this mentality of trying to 'impose' their viewpoints over the entire society and 'command' the society according to their whims that Ambedkar was vehemently opposed to Hindu Mahasabha, the ideological twin of the RSS and the philosophical guide/mentor to the BJP. AG Noorani reminds us that: “In November 1951, on the eve of India’s first general election (in 1952) based on adult suffrage, Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF) forged an electoral alliance with the Praja Socialist Party led by Jayaprakash Narayan. The SCF’s election manifesto ruled out 'alliance with any reactionary party such as Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh as communal parties'. Jan Sangh is the progenitor of the present-day BJP. Ambedkar clearly concludes that all types of religious fundamentalisms are similar. “Strange as it may seem, Mr Savarkar and Mr Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it”. Exposing the authoritarian streak of Savarkar and Hindu Mahasabha, he states: “Mr Savarkar wants the Hindu nation to be the dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the subservient nation under it”. This is in no way different to the ideology of the BJP and the RSS. No wonder Ambedkar was clearly opposed to such authoritarian tendencies as he was an ardent advocate of democracy. He writes: “Democracy is not a form of government, but a form of social organisation”. He urges the people not to rest after attaining mere voting rights. “What we must do is not to content ourselves with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there is at the base of it, a social democracy”. Ambedkar wants the people to play a pro-active role in the society – always remain vigilant against attacks and ready to defend their rights and fight for what is genuinely due. He states: “The prevalent view is that once the rights are enacted in law then they are safeguarded. This again is an unwarranted assumption. As experience proves, rights are protected not by law but by social and moral conscience of the society. If social conscience is such that it is prepared to recognise the rights which law proposes to enact, rights will be safe and secure. But if the fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no law, no parliament, no judiciary can guarantee them in the real sense of the world. What is the use of fundamental rights to the untouchables in India? If I find the Constitution being misused, I shall be the first to burn it”. The BJP is today undermining the very fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution and is trying to 'impose its choices' over all the people. These attempts have to be nipped in the bud itself. This indeed will be the real homage that we can pay to Babasaheb Ambedkar on his 125th birth anniversary.